Malaria cases in the Brazilian Amazon reached 115,708 in the first half of the year, a figure that was down 31 percent compared with the same period in 2010, the Health Ministry said Monday.

Between January and June this year, 2,030 people were admitted to hospital with the disease, or 20 percent less than in the same half-year period last year, the ministry said in a report.

The number of infections from the protozoan Plasmodium falciparum, the most lethal parasite conveying human malaria, went from 26,917 in the first six months of 2010 to 13,464 in the same period this year.

The ministry recorded a total of 72 deaths from malaria in the region in 2010, more than the 69 deaths in 2009.

The reduction of malaria cases has been repeated in all regions making up the Legal Amazon, an area of 5 million sq. kilometers (1.9 million sq. miles) divided into the states of Acre, Amapa, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Para, Rondonia and Roraima, as well as 98 percent of Tocantins state, 79 percent of Maranhao and 0.8 percent of Goias.

"The positive figures are the result of comprehensive action, which includes stepping up the routines for early diagnosis and the opportune treatment of patients," Health Minister Alexandre Padilha said.

With the goal of combating the illness, a prevention campaign was launched on Monday to distribute 1.1 million mosquito nets impregnated with long-lasting insecticide to exterminate the insects carrying the disease.

The Legal Amazon, where 99 percent of malaria cases in Brazil occur, is inhabited by close to 24 million people.

In the entire country, 49 million people live in areas exposed to the risk of contagion.

The objective is to close the year with less than 300,000 cases of malaria, a "daring" goal since most of the infections occur in the month of August, Padilha told the official Agencia Brasil news agency.

Close to 243 million cases of malaria and 63,000 deaths from the disease are registered around the world each year, according to figures from the World Health Organization.

Malaria is an acutely infectious disease caused by parasitic protozoans of the Plasmodium genus and are transmitted by mosquito bites.